The Michelin Man is one of the earliest and greatest examples of the personification of a brand. It’s possibly the most recognisable branding, ever. So because of this, we thought we’d put together some facts about the most famous tyre salesman in the business.
His real name isn’t the Michelin Man. It’s actually Bibendum, which comes from the slogan, “Nunc est bibendum,” by the poet Horace’s Odes. In English it means, “Time to drink”. We’ve no idea what this means in regards to motoring or tyres, but back in the early 1900s, drinking and driving wasn’t such an issue.
When the Michelin Man first found its branding during the very early 1900s, he was featured smoking a cigar and wearing glasses. The cigar slowly disappeared (and definitely wouldn’t be seen in advertising these days), and the glasses turned into the large eyes we now see in the current version.
Bibendum was featured owning a puppy in a recent advertisement. Its name wasn’t actually spoken in the advert, but it was later revealed that it was called ‘Bubbles’.
Despite the phrase “feeling like the Michelin Man” was coined as a way to describe yourself as looking fat or bloated, the 100th Anniversary of the brand saw the character slim down. Obviously he was made out of run-flat tyres at that point. Bad joke? Yep.
While he is made of tyres, he also features on the Michelin guide to restaurants and holidays. He’s very well-travelled, you see.
Created in 1898, he was imagined when company co-founder Édouard Michelin saw a pile of tyres in the Lyon Exhibition of 1894. These tyres resembled a human, hence, the Michelin Man.
The real reason for the “drink” in the character’s name is the slogan: “The Michelin Man drinks up obstacles.” It came from O’Galop, a cartoonist (real name Marius Rossillon) after André Michelin, brother of Édouard and the other co-founder of the company, shared his brother’s epiphany him. The logo was reworked from a creation for a Munich brewery – a chubby king on a barrel.
1969 saw Neil Armstrong on the Moon. A French journalist commented on Armstrong’s walking in space saying, “It’s extraordinary! He reminds me of the Michelin Man walking on the moon.”
The Michelin Man has his own biography, written by Olivier Darmon. It was called Michelin Man: 100 Years of Bibendum, and a children’s “I-Spy” spotter’s guides. This series was bought by Michelin in 1991 and was published until 2002. It launched again in 2009. I’ve never seen it. But I want it.
The Michelin Man has been featured in plenty of art, with the arguably the most popular being produced by 20th century designer Eileen Gray. She made a chair that was based on his characteristics.